Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Jackson Hole Art Blog keeps me posted about arts events in Teton County

I spent two hours this morning reading Tammy Christel’s Jackson Hole Art Blog and 10 days of posts on Tammy’s Facebook page. Wonderful blog post about David Brookover’s photo techniques and the methods he uses to visualize the Tetons and valley wildlife. Great detail about the various papers he uses. I learned so much about silver prints and platinums and photogravures.  

Tammy FB-tracked the busy 10 days in Jackson with the fall arts festival. An arts extravaganza for what may be the most beautiful month in The Hole. Funny to note the clothing choices of artists painting en plein air. At the Quick Draw, artist Jason Borbet, clad in sweat shirt and bright-red mittens, paints the Tetons/Snake River vista made famous by Ansel Adams. Emily Boespflug decked out for a run down the slopes with gloves, three layers of jackets, a red scarf and wool cap. She’s putting the finishing touches on a painting while onlookers in stocking caps observe her progress. Fall in Jackson – winter one day, summer the next.

Tammy kept track of the many events and also logged in some of the accompanying fun things – Sunday Brunch Gallery Walk with gigantic Bloody Marys topped off with onion rings and the many studio open houses, including Laurie Thal’s cool glass-blowing workplace in Wilson. Tammy also logs in some of the prices paid for artwork. For the casual arts buyer, the prices are astounding. Someone paid $1.2 million for Howard Terpning’s “Vanishing Pony Tracks” oil (writes Tammy: “Wowza!”) and $65,000 for Gary Lynn Roberts Quick Draw painting of a winter day at the Wort Hotel in days gone by.

Impressive numbers. But not unusual for a noted arts town such as Jackson. It was ranked the number one small community on the list of The Most Vibrant Arts Communities in America 2020. That’s from the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The top five were all in the Mountain West. Along with Jackson (which includes Wilson and Teton Village, Wyo., and Victor and Driggs, Idaho just over Teton Pass) were Steamboat Springs, Colo.; Heber, Utah; Hailey, Idaho; and Glenwood Springs, Colo. All of these places are within a day’s drive from my house. At 677 miles, Hailey would be a bit of a stretch, although Chris and I have logged one-day drives of 995 miles from our son’s place in Tucson. Long-distance driving skills are a necessity in our part of the world. It’s also good to note that three of the arts towns on the list of medium-sized communities are Boulder, Colo. (100 miles), Santa Fe, N.M.. (492 miles) and Bozeman, Mont. (595 miles). Note that Steamboat, Glenwood and Boulder are closer to me than Jackson, a mere 432 miles away, about the same distance as Heber City and Santa Fe.

As you can see, I live in the orbit of some of our country’s artsiest towns. Cheyenne is not in the SMU top ten. That’s OK – our arts scene is growing and we are very close to Denver and other pretty darn good arts town along the Front Range. Fort Collins has a multitude of outdoor music events promoted by the zillion craft brewers in town. I also like to browse the CSU Arts Center in the Old Fort Collins H.S. (Go Lambkins!). During the warmer months, you can find me outside surveying CSU Ag’s beautiful test garden and its large Xeriscape garden. Loveland is sculpture town. Visit and of the city parks to find an array of sculpture, from the representational to the avant-garde. I like the Chapungu African Sculpture Park east of the sprawling Centerra Center at I-25 and Hwy. 34. It features 82 hard-carved stone sculptures in a park with 600 trees of 20 species along with natïve shrubs and grasses. Wild Wonderful Weekend takes place there this weekend with a Saturday evening concert by American Authors who are actually American rockers.

As is true for many Cheyennites, we spend a lot of time at Colorado venues. We also support local arts. You can do both.

The top-five small arts communities are all destination resorts for summer and winter sports. The rich have gravitated to these places so they can brag about swapping tall tales with real local cowboys at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. They also like the views or viewsheds as realtors call them. It’s easy to be snarky about the scene and the outrageous prices paid for some art. Local writers have had some fun poking fun at the migratory riche, nouveau or otherwise (I’m looking at you Tim Sandlin). 

But I always loved traveling to Jackson for arts events and get there as often as I can. At all other times, reading Tammy’s blog and Facebook posts do a great job transporting me to arts happenings in The Hole.  

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

A prelude to fall this weekend at Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Harvest Festival

I'm volunteering Saturday afternoon at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens front desk. The place will be hopping with the annual Heirlooms and Blooms Harvest Market from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (noon to 4 on Sunday). This is the Gardens' first big event since the advent of Covid. Supposed to be a nice day. The farmers' market and the Shawn Dubie Memorial Rodeo happens Saturday at Frontier Park so it should be a lively day in the neighborhood. Drop by the front desk between noon and 3 and say hi. 

From the CBG press release:
CHEYENNE – Don’t wait for the chill of the holiday season to start shopping for your loved ones or yourself! 

Join the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, 710 S. Lions Park Dr., for an expanded indoor/outdoor harvest market at the most bountiful and beautiful time of year at the Gardens! This two-day event, on Saturday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 12 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., will have a variety of regionally made gifts from artists and craftsmen selling everything from home decor, woodworking, art and jewelry, dog treats, baked goods, apparel, and so much more! 

Make it an outing for the whole family and enjoy some delicious food from our food vendors, and activities for the kids! Admission is free, so come and enjoy the lush surroundings of the Gardens as you get ahead of your Fall decorating and Holiday shopping! 

Additional free parking is available across the street in Frontier Days Lot C. 

FMI: Aaron Summers, 307-637-6458.
P.S. Cheyenne writer Barb Gorges will be on hand from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday to sign her books, "Cheyenne Garden Gossip" and "Cheyenne Birds by the Month."

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Latest WyoFile review features biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings by Ann McCutchan

Ann McCutchan's new book is The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Author of The Yearling. Ann told me about the upcoming book when we met for coffee when she was contemplating a move back to Laramie. I was fascinated by the story behind Ann's choice in bio subjects and her return to the state. She grew up on Florida's Atlantic coast not far from where I came of age. We both had similar nostalgic memories of life on and near the beach. We both landed in Wyoming as adults and shared a bit of surprise that this is where we spent so much of our lives. No beaches within miles, unless you count Garth Brooks' "The Beaches of Cheyenne."

WyoFile's articles can now be heard via audio from Ad Auris. They've been doing this for awhile but just noticed it when the site published my latest review. I listened to it and it's quite good. Tune in at the above link.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Boring old college lecturer responds to "The Chair"

Watched the last episode of "The Chair" this week. I laughed, I cried. Various faculty and administrators and students pissed me off.  All in all, a good investment of six Netflix hours. 

I have never served time on a college faculty and I've been an adjunct at community colleges. I was an undergrad English major at one community college and a land-grant university in the Palm Tree South and a grad student at a land-grant university in the Rocky Mountain West. I never got within spitting distance of a small liberal arts college such as Pembroke. 

But Pembroke's people seemed familiar. As a grad student T.A., I experienced some of the same frustrations of Pembroke faculty, those f*cking f*cks referenced in The Chair's (F*cker In Charge) desk sign. Some faculty members were old and stuck in their ways. The Literature, Composition and ESL faculty didn't like creative writing faculty and vice versa. The administration was always targeting the English Department for cuts due to the fact that we all speak English so why in the f*cking f*ck do we need an English Department? Shouldn't it be the  'Merican Department since we all speak 'Merican here? 

All an MFA grad student could do was teach our two sections of comp, keep our heads down and write a lot. We had regular classes to attend on top of writing workshops. And, in my case and some others, I had a family to support. 

One of my favorite aspects of "The Chair" are insights into faculty's families. Dr. Ji-Joon Kim has a daughter who is as argumentative as faculty ("You're not my real mom"). Dobson's wife died and his only daughter went off to college. No matter he gets stoned before and after class, and sometimes doesn't show up at all. Dr. Joan Hambling gave up her personal life and career advancement to prop of the fragile egos of male colleagues. She is working on a relationship with a college IT guy who is as much as a wise-ass as she is. Dr. Rentz (Bob Balaban) chats with his wife before a college event and we find out that she gave up her academic career to raise three kids. "Someone had to cook dinner," she says as she urges her aging husband to wear his Depends.

My daughter, an English major, is watching "The Chair" but I don't think she's finished. After a couple episodes she was angry at the students, which I thought was interesting since she is a student and a Millennial. I was angry at the students too but possibly for a different reason. They didn't want to learn Chaucer and Melville? I fondly recall my red-haired prof at UF who taught us Chaucer in Middle English. She spoke it like a native and there were times I imagined her as The Wyf of Bathe. 

The Pembroke students just didn't want to learn it the old-fashioned boring Boomer lecture way. They liked the way Moby Dick was taught by Dr. Yaz, a Millennial who approached it in a new way. By the end of the final episode, I was depressed about the state of academia. No surprise -- I was a boring old lecturer and probably still am. Back in my day, etc., etc., and so on. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

That summer day in Wyoming, that was some wonderful day

One of my favorite loop tours for visitors is Cheyenne to Saratoga via the Snow Range. And then back again. For me, this 300-mile round-trip is no big deal. During summer, the obstacles on this route are construction, poky RVers, and hailstorms. During winter, you have to add in "slick in spots" hazards along I-80s Elk Mountain route. 

My wife Chris and sister Eileen joined me in my car. Brother-in-law Brian, daughter Annie and sister Mary rode in the rental. We first drove to Laramie. Annie wanted to show off her future campus. We parked in the War Memorial Stadium lot. Our visitors were impressed with the "breaking through" monumental sculpture and the big motto writ on across the stadium wall: "The world needs more cowboys." I really didn't want to get into some of the blowback the phrase caused. What about cowgirls?  Will this turn off Native American and other minority students? And what cowboys, exactly, are you speaking of? Cowboy Joe? John Wayne? The drovers in "Lonesome Dove?" The thousands of UW grads who couldn't find jobs in their home state and fled to non-cowboy states such as Illinois and Florida? Who? What?

We toured the big welcome center named for a rich donor. This is how it is on college campuses and I have no problems with it. Inside, I saw names of patrons who also support the arts and that made me happy as UW has great arts facilities and faculty. 

I noticed the library in the fireplace room and settled in to read through some of the old UW annuals. I was taken with the 1954 volume. Its first eight pages were photos of campus and Wyoming scenes that looked like blueline prints of 3D film. There is a pocket in the book's inside front cover that once held 3D glasses. How fun is that? 3D movies had hit the market in the early 1950s and they were all the rage when UW students assembled the annual in 1954. "It Came from Outer Space" (1953) and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954). I was also surprised by some of the other 3D titles listed on IMBD, "Kiss Me Kate" and "Hondo" among them. I don't have a real good feeling about Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor and The Duke coming at me in three dimensions. "They called him Hondo -- hot-blooded as the Plains that bred him. silent as gunsmoke, a stranger to all but the surly dog at his side." OK by me, but the dog better not die.

We ate lunch under the trees and toured the UW Art Museum, one of my favorite places. Some exhibits were closing down to make room for the fall crop of artists. But the ones still up were fascinating. I really got a kick out of  David Bradley's 2001 panoramic and satiric painting of the Santa Fe Indian Market (going on now). I was entranced by Collin Parson's "Light Ellipse" at the entrance to the galleries. The 12-feet-high ellipse is made of PVC panel and backlit by LED lights and changes colors as you watch. Parson's exhibit is one of the museum's fall highlights which includes visits and talks by the Denver artist. "Blind" by Holly Roberts was part of the museum's horse exhibit. This was one of the more experimental works in "The West on Horseback" exhibit that included paintings by Hans Klieber and black-and-white ranch photos by Elsa Spear Byron.  

After a quick tour of downtown we headed for the mountains along Route 130 through Centennial. The high prairie seemed very green for the first week in August. It's usually lightly-browned as beach sand, sometimes as brown as the Wyoming Brown you see all across the UW campus. A summer squall cut into our sightseeing. Also, there was that brown cloud that has found its way here from Oregon and California. The rain let up when we reached Lake Marie so we released our visitors into the wild, now with that fresh post-rainstorm scent. Lake Marie probably one of the most photographed site in Wyoming outside our national parks and the country's first national monument. Sometimes you can catch it as still and mirror-lake and, if the light is just right, you can shoot a fit-for-framing reflection of the surrounding mountains. Laramie's Doc Thissen once showed me such a photo, one of his.

On the way downhill we passed Brush Creek Ranch and I thought about C.J. Box's novel "The Disappeared" in which some nefarious goings-on happen at a guest ranch eerily similar to Brush Creek. Other fictional nogoodniks are haunting the Wolf Hotel in downtown Saratoga, a place where Game Warden/Sleuth Joe Pickett bellies up to the bar on a frigid winter evening and sips a Black Tooth Saddle Bronc Ale. Eileen, Brian, and Mary toured the Wolf and the rest of the town. 

"So who lives here?" I've asked myself that question many times, usually when passing places such as Hanna and  Jeffrey City. I know writers from Hanna and people in Jeffrey City who kept its arts council alive even when the town was dying. These towns also house coal-miners, wind-farm workers, retirees and meth heads. Just like any place in the Rocky Mountain West. As I drive back to Cheyenne, I look out on the landscape and marvel that anyone can make a living in this place. It inspires -- I think of Linda Lillegraven's wonderful landscape paintings -- and it also causes people to lose their minds, as happens in real life and in Annie Proulx's short stories (Proulx spent many years in WYO and once lived in Centennial). 

The setting sun ignites the clouds over the Laramie Range as we drive the last miles to home. It occurs to me that nobody in our two-car caravan sees Wyoming as I do. We all see and experience life differently. Some of us translate it (or try to) in the work we do. For others, it is memories and stories, a photograph that they unearth decades later and remember that August day in Wyoming spent with family. 

That was some day. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Meadowlarks, cabbage burgers, and Pine Bluffs experiences a nuke boom (the good kind)

So this is Nebraska
So this is Nebraska. A Sunday
afternoon; July. Driving along
with your hand out squeezing the air,
a meadowlark waiting on every post.
Third stanza of a poem by Ted Kooser of Nebraska, one-time U.S. Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. To hear him read the poem, prefaced with a short description of why he wrote it, go to  Poetry Foundation. To read in full, go to So this is Nebraska

I heard Kooser read this poem aloud along with other work at a Wyoming Writers, Inc., conference a few years ago. He's a short and unassuming man. You can't say the same adjectives for his poetry. His work tells stories of life in the Great Plains, Nebraska mainly. The poems are simple in construction but you can find worlds in "a meadowlark waiting on every post."

I traveled from Cheyenne to Nebraska last week, my first visit since before Covid-19 struck. It was a short visit. Family visitors who had never been to Nebraska wanted to see it, step foot in a foreign place. I told them Nebraska stories, how Chris and I got trapped in Kimball during a spring blizzard when lightning veined the sky and I skidded through mushy snow a foot deep on I-80 before snagging the last hotel room barely 60 miles from home. I gathered my family one spring break day and met friends from Lincoln in Red Cloud, Nebraska, home of Willa Cather. An odd choice for spring break if you're not an admirer of Cather and her work. But our friends got into the spirit of the day. The kids played in the playground while we toured Cather's old home undergoing restoration (I snagged a 100-year-old board) and poked around the library which checks out books, videos, and cake pans. Chris and I walked the quiet autumn streets of Lincoln, campus lights twinkling in the distance. I remarked that it took a victory by the visiting CU Buffaloes over the Mighty Cornhuskers to bring the silence of a graveyard to the capital city. 

We drove through Pine Bluffs and past the border into Nebraska. "Looks a lot like Wyoming," Eileen said.

We pull off at Bushnell. I glide to a stop on the paved road which probably morphs into a gravel road. Next to the sign for Bushnell (No Services!), with farm equipment clattering down the road, prairie grass waving in the hot wind, I read them Kooser's poem. Looking back, I should have dialed up the poet reading his work. His voice matches the scenery.

I hear traffic zipping down the interstate. Thousands pass this way every day bound for somewhere else. Those who do get off at this interchange take bio breaks and tend to a crying child. No need to seek succor in Bushnell (No Services). Winter winds or weather might cause high-profile vehicles to pull over. But a truck stop is just seven miles away across the border so why stop here? I can easily conjure a winter day near Bushnell because I have experienced them near Torrington and Muddy Gap and Sinclair and Meeteetse. 

But today it is summer and it's beautiful.

We get back in the car and stop for lunch at Sadie's. A big weekend ahead for the town with Texas Trail Days. A parade, rodeo, concerts and a mud volleyball tourney. I order a cabbage burger because I never see that on any restaurant menus. Only time I've eaten one was at Germans-from-Russia events that feature the Dutch Hop Polka. 

We tour the Texas Trail Museum and find out that we just missed the brief stop of UP's rebuilt Big Boy steam locomotive as it began its cross-country travels. We tour the gigantic Virgin Mary statue at the east end of town, and then the archaeological dig site on the way back to Cheyenne.

A school teacher tending the info booth at the rest area tells us that there isn't a single apartment or house to rent or buy in Pine Bluffs. The town expects an influx of workers set to begin the first phase of the renovation of the area's nuke missile sites. This is part of a multi-year $3 billion project to bring our "nuclear deterrent" up to 21st century requirements. Nobody ever talks about the "peace dividend" anymore. That's so late-20th century. Not sure what the nukes can do to help the Afghans about to regress into the 5th century. The Taliban, it seems, are not impressed with our nuclear might lurking in burrows on the prairie.
Behind a shelterbelt of cedars, 
top-deep in hollyhocks, pollen and bees,
a pickup kicks its fender off
and settles back to read the clouds.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Savage Vedauwoo chipmunks, and other travel stories

Don’t get around much anymore. Not since March 2020 anyway. Guests arrive August 2021 and it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee and the buffalo chips.

My sisters Mary and Eileen and brother-in-law Brian ventured from Florida to Wyoming to visit their brother (me, he, him) and family (she, she) and take a look around the High Plains.

Wyoming and Florida are different places. For one thing, we are a big square state and Florida is shaped liked a human appendage. Wyoming high and dry; Florida low and wet. Blizzards generally don’t hit Florida. Hurricanes usually skip Wyoming.

Both places have lots to see and you have to get out and see them. In Wyoming, you get in the car, check the gas gauge, and drive to the mountains. In Florida, you get in the car, check your insurance, and drive to Orlando. If you survive that, you drive to the beach. I grew up in Daytona Beach in the 1960s and ‘70s. You could drive to the beach and on the beach. NASCAR races were once held on the beach’s hand-packed sand. Unique place. Beach-driving hours are now limited.

I drove my 2021 visitors first to Vedauwoo. We picnicked under pines and watched climbers negotiate the 1.4-billion-year-old chunks of granite. I remembered my young son and daughter clambering up the rocks and Chris and me down below, worrying but also impressed. Vedauwoo is usually one of the faves cited by visiting friends and family. What’s not to like? Gorgeous scenery, cool winds scented by pines, sunny skies. Add some snow to the Laramie Range and you get all this plus cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Chris and Annie hiked south. Eileen, Mary, and Brian decided to hike Turtle Rock Trail. I told them it was a fairly easy 3-mile trail. I forgot to mention that we were at 8,200 feet. This is approximately 8,150 feet higher that their homes in Florida. I also forgot to mention to drink plenty of water. I know, what kind of host am I? Altitude and hydration are always the first things you mention when travelers arrive from The World. I remember my first camping trip in Colorado after living at sea level for 14 years. Base camp for the Long’s Peak Trail in RMNP. Spent the first night with a raging headache. Nothing worked on it: Coors, Tylenol, wishful thinking. I just waited it out.

Everyone but me went hiking. I am partially disabled and use a walker so hiking is no longer my thing. I sat at the picnic table. Munched grapes, and read a book. At one point, chipmunks got brave enough to visit the table. Earlier, my patient daughter Annie fed a grape to a chipmunk. Apparently, they thought I also was a purveyor of grapes. At least one did. He skittered across my book several times. The next trip, he stopped, sniffed my thumb, and bit me. I yelped and he scampered into the underbrush. No blood, the bite not hard enough to break the skin. I moved away from chipmunk habitat and found a shady, secluded spot to continue reading.

The hikers all made it back. The Florida people were a bit winded and thirsty.

“That was a long three miles,” Brian said.

“Mountain miles are longer than sea-level miles.” I explained that mountain trails take twists and turns, they go up and they go down. Three miles can seem like six or even sixteen.

“So mountain miles seem longer than sea-level miles,” Brian surmised.

“I don’t get your point,” I said. “A chipmunk bit me.”  

Florida and Wyoming may never understand each other. Sign of the times.

On the next post, we journey east to Nebraska, where it was 98 freaking degrees, and west to the Snowies where it snowed.